Why Did God Let My Baby Die?

Meet my brother.

To be fair to the historical record, it's possible this is a photo of my younger sister. Mum and Dad aren't around any more to edit the captions in the oldest of my 120 photo albums so this picture has become, for me, a memento of Ian George Hunt, my brother.

Ian was born on the 31st July 1953. He was named for his father (Ian=John) and his grandfather, George. Our mother, Jean, nearly died having him. And when Ian died seven weeks later, a significant part of our mother seemed to die with him. He was found, dead in his cot, on the morning of 24th September 1953. In those days no-one seemed to know why. They just called it "cot death".

There's a small group I go to each week. We are reading and talking about the book of Job. The one in the Bible.

For any of you planning to race off and read Job (pronounced Jobe as in Jobe Watson, Captain of Essendon), here is a SPOILER ALERT. Job is a thoroughly good bloke which is something Satan rather dislikes. With God's permission, so the story goes (and I think we do have to recognise that it IS a story), Satan ruins Job's life. Seriously. Kills his kids. Ruins the business. Gives Job a bunch of very unpleasant diseases. Finally, he has nothing. Except three friends who come to comfort him, but end up suggesting none too subtly that he is probably getting his just deserts (I only put that in because I want to show off that I know the right way to spell deserts)*. The friends' approach is to blame the victim. It is not helpful.

Anyway, back to the bro.

Towards the end of the discussion the leader said, "What if one of the young mums who comes to the weekly playgroup (Mainly Music) ... what if her baby died? And what if she asked you 'Why did God let my baby die?' ... What would you say?"

There was a long group silence. Maybe everyone was working out their answer. More likely, like me, everyone was hoping someone else had an answer to the unanswerable.

Finally, a general consensus emerged that the honest answer is "I don't know." Furthermore, a mother in that situation isn't likely to be ready for any deep and meaningful answer. The group readily agreed that the wrong thing to say would be "Well, what did you do to deserve it?" The book of Job is fairly instructive on that point.

As you can tell, I've continued to think about the question. Here are some thoughts:

First, the question is wrong. It assumes a wrong understanding of God. Underpinning the question is the idea that God is the great Svengali, pulling the strings of earth and evolution. Or the Great Clockmaker, setting Nature on his preselected path.

Of course, it would hardly be loving to say "Your question is not right." In such circumstances, indeed, in all circumstances, it is more right to be loving than to be right.

I know I would want to say something like this:

I don't think God wanted this to happen any more than you do. I think God wanted your baby to live. And I think there are tears in heaven right now every bit as much as on earth.

Such a response, of course, does not answer the question in the terms the mother has put it. She might reasonably respond "Well, if God wanted my baby to live, my question stands -- why did God let him die?"

Probably that's the point I'd want to say "Let's talk about this later" (sub-text: You're not up for this conversation right now).

So the correct answer to the question put to the group, at least for me, is still "I don't know what I would say." But that reflects the emotional complexity of the situation more than the theological question being posed. In such a moment of grief almost anything we say may make the situation worse. Simple presence, evident compassion, a hug, a tear. These things will say more. Preach the Good News without words.

Job's story is again instructive. His friends came and sat with him for a whole week without saying a thing. Finally, they decided to speak. And they said the wrong things. Or even when they said right things, they seemed to be able to say them in the worst way possible. Speech in grief is risky.

The hymn writer said "Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered." This is the God I think I know. The one who set the universe in motion, watched his creation turn pear shaped, and then entered into its suffering to show how bad things had become, and to model and demonstrate a better way.

God has a vision of a better world in which babies do not die before their time. We read about it in Isaiah 65:17-25. God has given us all the resources we need to create such a world. Perhaps our problem is that those resources are so rarely applied with the love that God himself has demonstrated in Jesus.

* From the Oxford Concise English Dictionary: deserts pl. n. (often in phr. get (or receive) one's just deserts) what a person deserves with regard to reward or (more usually) punishment. -- origin ME: via OFr. from deservir (see deserve).


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